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Freshman Alex Iqbal tallied Penn’s first hat trick since 2009, as the Quakers breezed past Appalachian State Sunday at Franklin Field.

Photo: Frances Hu / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Making the jump from high school to college life is never easy.

For student athletes, the adjustment adds even more pressure, and for this reason, collegiate teams never really know what to expect from their first-year players.

With eight freshmen on the roster this season, the Penn field hockey team had an uncertain outlook. Its freshmen, however, may have provided the largest contribution of any class so far this year.

“We’ve really been pleasantly surprised,” coach Colleen Fink said. “We pretty much have five freshmen contributing — whether it be starting or coming off the bench — in every match.”

Four freshmen — Alex Iqbal, MaryRose Croddick, Emily Corcoran and Helene Caniglia — have started all 11 games for the Quakers thus far. Katherine Cook has also appeared in six games, starting two.

The freshmen can take a lot of the credit for the Red and Blue’s two victories this year: Corcoran notched the game-winner against Cornell, and Caniglia scored in double-overtime to defeat LaSalle.

Caniglia is also second on the team in scoring, despite playing a defensive-focused position at center back.

“She is a quiet force on the field, she’s disciplined and she does what she’s supposed to do,” Fink said of Caniglia. “She has tons of potential.”

While Caniglia has been a force offensively, Iqbal has been a main contributor on the defensive side.

“Alex is a great player. She’s got tons of speed,” Fink said. “I really think she excels on the AstroTurf surface” — the standard surface for Division I field hockey programs, which Penn currently lacks.

“I feel like the surface here kind of holds her back because she is so fast that sometimes her body is faster than the ball is moving,” Fink added.

Both Caniglia and Iqbal have been pleasantly surprised with the amount of playing time they have both been getting this year.

“I was expecting to contribute to the team, but I wasn’t expecting to be such a prominent figure,” Iqbal said. “I’m really glad I’ve gotten all of this playing time because it’s certainly going to help in the future.”

The upperclassmen have helped the young class in adjusting to the college level.

“Any questions that I have, I always go to the upperclassmen,” Caniglia said. “I really feel like there’s a huge change in the level of play between high school and college.”

Fink said she has already observed a tremendous improvement in the freshman class from the beginning of the year.

“They’re finally understanding our system … finally understanding what our expectations are,” Fink said. “And that’s exciting to see.”

Iqbal has noticed her own improvement, too.

“I used to be a little bit hesitant to carry the ball and take it myself,” she revealed. “But they’ve taught me how to do it and how to make myself successful carrying the ball.”

Looking ahead to this weekend, Penn travels to Columbia tonight and returns home to take on Appalachian State on Sunday morning.

Penn’s offense has seen a surge as of late — after managing only seven goals in the first eight games, the Quakers have put six in the back of the cage in their last three.

“I feel like in the beginning of the season, we were having a tough time connecting our passes because maybe there were so many new players who weren’t used to playing with each other,” Iqbal speculated.

“Now we are in there getting second and third shots off and getting rebounds,” Caniglia added.

The defense however, has recently let the team down. In their 4-3 loss to Lehigh Wednesday, the Quakers allowed four goals in just a 12-minute span in the first half. To beat Columbia, lapses like that can’t happen.

“It’s about putting the two ends of the field together,” Fink said. “If we can do that, we can play with anyone.”

Without a doubt, if the Quakers are going to pick up their first road win tonight against Columbia, the freshmen are going to play a large role.

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